When I applied to the January Thesis Boot Camp, I was in the middle of a writing slump. I somewhat knew what I wanted to write in my thesis, but whenever it came to putting words into paper, I felt unable to do so. A big part of that was, as it happens, the pressure I felt to send to my supervisors only chapters I considered “finished”, and, as such, even when I wrote something I would take ages working on that until it was good enough.
A friend of mine, who by then was close to finishing her Ph.D., had mentioned to me that she had taken part of a thesis boot camp previously and that it helped her a lot. Hence, I decided to apply when the call was open, with the agreement of my supervisors.
Just getting prepared for the boot camp was already quite helpful. The fact I had to prepare a thesis outline with all subchapters and planned word counts made me think what I should include and what should I remove from the final draft. In particular, it made me realise I actually had most of the structure already in my head, and I just needed to put that into paper. In addition, although this was not required, it also made me go further and write a short synopsis of each subchapter, so I could know exactly what I wanted to discuss at which point of the thesis – thus, helping me see how each piece of writing would fit within the whole thing.
The boot camp itself was really good. There is something different about the experience: sitting in the same room with other people working on their theses; the fact that you are not allowed to chat among yourselves (you are there to write!); the silent pressure of trying to achieve writing milestones and not being able to procrastinate; the liberty to write whatever you felt like, understanding this would not be the “finished product”; and last but certainly not least, having your daily routine planned (and food provided!) for you while you only need to concentrate on writing. These things make for a brilliant environment for writing, at least to me. At the end of the three days of boot camp, I had written 10,000 words from scratch, which meant I had the better part of a chapter just there – although one that required, of course, plenty of editing.
At the end of the boot camp, there is advice on keeping the writing momentum going, which ended up being quite helpful. After the boot camp, and after some editing of the chapter I had written, I sent it to my supervisors, and we agreed in a meeting that it was good enough quality that I could do a “boot camp” by myself for each chapter. Thus, ever since that January, every month I take three days to “just write” (and in many cases that writing ends up being complete rubbish, but I learned to accept it as part of the process) aiming at 10,000 words. The rest of the month is, of course, dedicated to editing that into a chapter, but just having the most of a chapter at the end of a “solo boot camp” feels like an achievement. Moreover, the fact that my supervisors understand and agree that these chapters will not be “perfect” but can be quite “good” is, in itself, very helpful.
Furthermore, if I can give some advice to people who struggle with writing just as I did: of course, think about joining the University thesis boot camp, you might find it quite helpful. But additionally, here’s something that helps me keep my writing momentum going: during my “solo boot camps”, in which I am pretty much isolated from human contact for three days, I use dictation software to help me write. This was advice given to me by a friend who broke his arm but still had to keep writing, and, like him, I found out that another source of anxiety for me is the act of writing itself – I have much fewer filters when talking. Thus, when you are speaking to your computer and the computer just writes down whatever it is you are saying (I personally use Dragon Naturally Speaking, but you can be creative!), those words come out much easier.
To conclude, in the end what matters is finding something that works for you. Until there, just keep trying new things – maybe you will find what suits you.